Uber convicted, fined in French trial over taxi practices


PARIS (AP) — A French court has convicted and fined Uber and two of its executives for deceptive commercial practices and illegal business activity over its lowest-cost ride service.

It’s the latest legal tangle for the app-based business, which has faced protests from taxi unions and regulators around the world, reflecting larger tensions between long-regulated industries and the borderless, online economy.

The court fined the San Francisco-based company 800,000 euros ($907,000), regional executive Pierre-Dimitry Gore-Coty 30,000 euros, and France general manager Thibaud Simphal 20,000 euros. Half of all the fines were suspended.

The court did not hand prison terms, and rejected a prosecutor’s request that the two executives be barred from running any company for five years.

The fines were also much lower than the 100 million euros in damages that traditional taxi services had sought.

Traditional taxi services accused the low-cost UberPop service of unfair competition because it uses non-professional drivers. UberPop is now banned in France but Uber still operates a service with professional drivers.

The plaintiffs on the whole expressed disappointment that the fines were not bigger.

“In the end, UberPop’s activity was profitable” given that the fines are far lower than the 46 million euros UberPop is estimated to have earned, said Jonathan Bellaiche, a lawyer representing three taxi unions and one individual taxi driver.

Thierry Guicherd, a taxi driver who sued UberPop, was awarded 1,600 euros in damages but argued that was far below what he’d suffered in lost business.

Another taxi driver, 35-year-old Frederic Bergaud, said the conviction was a first step. “Are we going to win the war? We don’t know. But it’s better than nothing.”

Uber’s lawyers did not comment on the court ruling.

It was the first trial for Uber managers in France. During the trial, lawyers for Uber argued Simphal and Gore-Coty are not the legal representatives for Uber in France, have no such mandate from the shareholders and are only salaried managers dealing mostly with marketing and advertising.

Yet the court ruled Thursday they were de facto managing Uber in France.

More than 200 UberPop drivers have been fined under fast-track procedures in France, and the company has already been convicted of deceptive commercial practices and fined 150,000 euros ($170,000) over UberPop by a Paris court.

The French Parliament voted to outlaw UberPop and other similar services in 2014, and Uber suspended its UberPop service in France in July 2015. But its standard app-based service still prompts occasional strikes and clashes with taxi drivers.

In Spain and Italy, Uber is outlawed entirely.

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